Friday, 24 March 2017

The Hidden Family by Charles Stross

I picked up the digital copy of this for free from's Book Club, and it included the first book in the series as well. As I was feeling lazy and didn't want to figure out where the middle was, exactly, I reread The Family Trade before going on to read The Hidden Family.

And wow, do I think I was far too kind to The Family Trade the first go round. The second time, the stilted dialogue was even more apparent, the efforts to give Miriam virtually every skill and background annoying. It wasn't unreadable, but I was not impressed. I am very glad I'd read later and better Charles Stross books and could recognize this as relatively early and nowhere near as skilled.

It was with a bit of a wince that I went on to the second book in the first series, with The Hidden Family. And maybe I'd think differently if I went back later to read it again, but it's a definite improvement over The Family Trade. I still don't really buy the depth of the relationship between Miriam and old what's-his-name. (Seriously, I can't remember his name, which may contribute to why I don't really believe she'd fall in such passionate love with him, even while not trusting him. There's just not enough character there for me to believe it.)

In the second installment, Miriam survives some assassination attempts only to realize that there is a third world floating around out there, accessible from the medieval-level world, but not our world, and sits at about the technological level of very early industrial Britain. (The numbering bothered me here, since the world from which you could reach either of the other two was not number two, so the numbers didn't connect in the neat way I wanted them to. This is possibly the most nitpicky of nits I have ever picked.)

With the help of female friends from both the world she grew up on (ours) and the one where she was born (medieval-level), Miriam explores the ramifications of three different economies and the implications of world-travelling on each, with the aid of many beta blockers. While trying to avoid both a murderous lost family in the third world and the police there who are on constant lookout for Levellers and French spies.

There's a lot here about both politics and economics, and while this still isn't sparkling prose, it's a definite step forward. Watching Miriam try to mold the economy and political system of a whole new world is entertaining,

The reveal regarding her adoptive mother was one of those where as a reader, it was fairly evident early in the book, yet Miriam, even though getting the same information, doesn't put it together until it's literally in front of her face. I get why, I guess, but it does seem like a level of obtuseness that doesn't fit that well with the character as she's generally presented to us.

On the whole, this still isn't great fantasy/science fiction. But it's getting more interesting, and as I like Stross in general, I'm sure I'll go on to read more, eventually.


  1. The whole Merchant Princes pentology is, I think, some of Stross' weakest writing in terms of characterization and dialogue. The Big Ideas are nice and Big and interesting, and that ended up being enough for me to push through. The new series in the same world (set in 2020) has much better characterization, in my opinion.

    1. Good to know! I'm still willing to read more, it's just not my favourite of his stuff.